Auditor General says he found no evidence of corruption

Auditor General says he found no evidence of corruption

Had the National Audit Office found evidence of corruption in the Delimara power station extension contract it would have referred the matter to the Police Commissioner, the Auditor General told the Public Accounts Committee last night.

Anthony Mifsud said there was no evidence of corruption or trading in influence at any stage of the public procurement process. The 11-month investigation “found smoke but not the fire”, he said.

Defining what he meant by “smoke”, Mr Mifsud said there were “a series of coincidences” throughout the tendering process, which favoured the eventual tender winner, the Danish company BWSC. Among the coincidences he mentioned the fact that in a series of technical meetings between Enemalta and the bidders, BWSC always arranged to have the last meeting through their Maltese agent Joseph Mizzi, a former employee of the public energy corporation.

However, Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt’s definition of smoke was slightly different, insisting that 25 persons were involved in 10 different stages in the tendering process and no corruption was found. All the Auditor was left with was the smoke created by political machinations and media reports, Dr Gatt said.

During the meeting, Dr Gatt declared the Prime Minister, ministers and government MPs were ready to make a sworn declaration they never met BWSC officials or Mr Mizzi during the tendering process.

He made the declaration after committee members asked Mr Mifsud about an e-mail Mr Mizzi was supposed to have sent in 2005, when still an employee with Associated Supplies Ltd, to BWSC in which he spoke of the need to “tap higher sources in the political hierarchy”.

The e-mail was sent more than a year before the tendering procedure for the power station extension had started.

Mr Mifsud said the investigation could not come to a conclusion as to who the political sources referred to by Mr Mizzi were even though he was confronted about the matter. Subsequently, Mr Mizzi ended his contract with ASL and went solo with BWSC opting to keep him on as their agent.

The e-mail and others came to light after they were retrieved by ASL but no other e-mails pertaining to the period in which the tendering process was ongoing were presented or investigated by the Auditor.

Mr Mifsud said the Audit Office could not confiscate computers belonging to private individuals such as Mr Mizzi because they were not government employees.

He added that during three interviewing sessions, Mr Mizzi was at times uncooperative, did not remember things or did not answer questions put to him by the NAO.

Mr Mifsud was given legal advice not to produce the transcripts of what various witnesses, including Mr Mizzi, said during the interviews with NAO when asked to do so by opposition MP Evarist Bartolo.

Speaking for the Auditor, lawyer Ian Refalo said publishing the transcripts would be in breach of the Professional Secrecy Act and could prejudice the Auditor’s work.

Mr Bartolo said such a position justified the opposition’s call to have witnesses themselves appear before the PAC, something the government side had objected to.

The meeting was also attended by Labour MP Helena Dalli and Nationalist MPs Robert Arrigo, Philip Mifsud and Jason Azzopardi. It was chaired by opposition MP Charles Mangion.

The next hearing will be held on November 30 when the Auditor is expected to continue testifying.

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